Logging more timber and using disaster-funding methods should help the U.S. Forest Service improve its firefighting ability, U.S. Rep. Steve Daines said during a visit to the Missoula Smokejumper Center.
“We need to increase the harvest on national forests,” Daines, R-Mont., said Monday. “It’s not the only answer, but it creates jobs and tax revenue and reduces the risk of wildfire.”
Daines has co-sponsored House Bill 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, which would require the Forest Service to cut at least 50 percent of the sustained yield on at least one “revenue area” of each national forest in the country. The bill also reduces the amount of analysis or National Environmental Policy Act review the agency must complete before moving forward on a harvest project. The bill has passed the House of Representatives, but awaits a committee hearing in the Senate.
Daines also supported measures allowing the Forest Service to pay for forest fires in a way similar to how the federal government handles natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. Currently, the agency must use its own annual budget to pay for firefighting — a bill that lately has exceeded 50 percent of its total funding. That’s forced non-fire-related projects and activities to lose funding when firefighting expenses get high.
House Resolution 3992 would allow about $2.7 billion in wildfire suppression costs to be applied to the agency’s next-year budget. The measure would cover both the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture — the two main overseers of the nation’s public lands. Smokejumper Kurt Rohrbach led Daines and his staff through the Missoula Smokejumper Center, which is the nation’s largest base for the specialized firefighters.
Rohrbach noted it was staffed with 75 jumpers — down from 95 in previous years.
“When it gets too dry, you can’t get out there fast enough,” Rohrbach said. “Our numbers are down from austerity measures. It takes money to fight fires. We get tapped out pretty fast.”